Mastering audience participation is very relevant for a singer or musician to understand. What are the best techniques for getting a crowd going? Fortunately, we’ve found a number of great techniques that you can use to encourage audience participation.
Knowing how to get your audience to respond during your live performance is essential if you want to be in with a good chance of growing and maintaining your audience as an independent artist.
Tips on Audience Participation: The art of audience participation when performing your song involves knowing what will work for you to get your audience to engage with you. If you’re performing on stage for the first time, audience participation can be a useful element to help improve your performance on stage.
What does audience engagement mean?
The definition of audience engagement. The music industry has always talked about audience engagement a lot lately. But what does it really mean?
The Cambridge dictionary says that engagement is the fact of being involved with something; the process of encouraging people to be interested in the work of an organisation or individual.
Even though the definition is still quite vague, it implies an audience experiencing a happy feeling and being part of something. So regarding audience engagement during gigs, this definition may suit well: ‘The extent to which people watching you are interested or actively involved in your performance.’
Enhancing audience engagement is important because engaged users are more likely to trust a musician, both personally and as a brand. They return more often to a gig or website, visit more pages during a session, and are more inclined to sign up for an email newsletter.
Very importantly, they are more likely to end up creating more revenue for you (through merch, music sales, or more gigs).
How do you engage a crowd at an event?
As a singer, it can be difficult to make audience participation work for you when singing, as the audience will never be the same twice. Some crowds will be raring to go with audience participation, whereas others will simply look at you blankly. It’s essentially a judgement call based on a number of factors including;
- Is it an audience you are familiar with?
- Are there many in the audience there to come and see just you?
- Is the audience lively and responsive to previous acts on stage?
If it’s not yes to the above is it worth the risk? Especially at a showcase where there may be a number of acts!
When you’re practicing your song, it’s best to decide then which point in your performance is best for any audience participation.
You want the audience participation to add value to your song and performance. It’s best to know what’s appropriate to your performance and to be aware of the reaction you’re likely to receive.
Introduction speech for a singer. How to introduce yourself on stage
A great way to plan ahead is also by thinking of some things to say between songs. This will instantly create that personal connection so that your audience is more likely to engage and participate later on the set.
Here are some things that you can say at different points during your set:
- Your name / Act name
- How long you’ve been singing for and why you do it
- Something personal about you
- Thank the crowd for coming
Of course, these are just some examples. There is no absolute formula to a perfect thing to say during a set, but this is a good one for beginners.
Once you’ve become more used to performing and getting the audience participating and engaged, your ideas will start flowing easily.
Song choice – singing along
When it comes to directly get your audience to participate during your set, there are many songs that are regularly used for audience participation. Often they are classics, the songs everyone knows. From ‘Come on Eileen’ by Dexy’s Midnight Runners to ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond.
These songs often create audience participation because they’re known by enough people that the audience is likely to be able to sing along.
Audience participation with big audiences
Some great audience participation tips can be implemented when there’s a big audience to work with. Here are some ideas:
- Use props such as balloons, balls and other light object that float or bounce. Throw them into the audience and watch your crowd have fun bouncing them around throughout your set.
- Grab a megaphone and shout down it. Billy Joe from Green Day has used this during some of his songs to get his crowds riled and feel like they’re protesting the establishment!
- Speak to your audience directly and get them to follow your actions. If there’s a screen filming you (like at a festival) even better.
- Get a call and response going between you and your audience.
- If you’re brave enough, venture down into the crowd and really connect with your audience physically whilst you’re singing one of your songs (we don’t recommend crowd surfing though)!
When should you get your audience to sing along?
If you’re performing well-known covers (such as the ones mentioned above) it’s easy to get people to sing along. When the chorus is coming up, make sure to remind them to sing loudly.
If you’re singing an original song, unless it’s catchy enough for people to instantly learn, avoid making people sing. They won’t be sure of what to sing, and they may feel awkward.
If there are some people in the audience who know your song, however, go for it. If they want to sing the chorus with you, encourage them.
Check out how to write catchy songs here:
It’s important to remember is that if it doesn’t work the first time, don’t try and push it again as you’ve probably just got an audience that doesn’t want to join in with audience participation.
Audience participation techniques
Know your timing. Sometimes having the right timing will be enough to encourage audience participation.
If it looks like the audience is enjoying your performance, then that’s the best time to try some audience participation as they’re in the palm of your hands, so why not play on it. If the crowd isn’t with you, there’s little point trying to engage with them too much.
When should you get your audience to stand up?
This depends entirely on the context of your set. If you’re the third singer on in a really quiet gig with very few people who know you, it may be best to warm the crowd up first during your set.
Give it a few songs, and if the audience is smiling, then mention that you have an upbeat song coming up and ask them to stand up.
If there is already a buzz in the room, and people seem to be on your side, go for it! Ask them to stand up and come forward to the front of the stage. They’ll be much more likely to dance then.
Similarly to a comedian, their timing is often what makes the joke funny. Knowing your timing when trying audience participation can often determine the engagement you’ll get.
A good way to work on your audience participation is by gaining more performance experience through open mic nights or similar events.
How do you engage an audience during a performance?
Your technique. To get the most out of your audience it’s best to choose a technique to use to encourage audience participation. This technique can alter depending on the tempo of the song.
It’s important to know what kind of audience participation is going to work with your audience and your choice of song. If you’re going for an upbeat song then it’s likely you’ll get the audience clapping, but if it’s a song with a slower tempo then the audience might sway.
Either way, encourage your audience. If you know that it will make them more comfortable if they’re dancing, encourage it. If you think they’d be more comfortable just listening to your song intently and swaying, encourage that.
It’s difficult to plan the technique to use as you won’t know what to expect from the audience. The atmosphere of the room will give you an idea of whether or not the audience is going to want to engage with you.
To anyone that contributes to the audience participation, it’s important to remember to thank them for participating. This is because they’ve given you what you were wanting out of them. One of the best ways to acknowledge contribution is simply to thank the crowd.
It doesn’t matter whether you do it after they contribute or you save it to the end of your performance.
Before a show
A great technique to use before a show is to tell your closest friends and fans directly to dance and be enthusiastic during your set.
They aren’t stupid – they know that you’re doing it to make the rest of the audience have a good time, and there’s no shame in that.
Make sure, however, to briefly explain this to your mates so that everyone is on the same side.
If you’re trying to focus on how to perform well, make sure to give this article a read:
Audience engagement examples
When it comes to audience engagement, sometimes it’s better to be subtle about it. Yes, it’s great to get people to sing along, dance, and mosh, but sometimes (depending on the crowd) it’ll benefit you to think of some more subtle and clever ways to get your audience on your side.
Here are some brilliant examples of getting the audience engaged in ways that they’ll feel comfortable with and aren’t used all of the time.
How to command a crowd and get them pumped
#1 Use mirroring
When you arrive onstage at a gig, it’s vital to realise that the crowd often wants to like you. Providing them with physical cues to express their support is the ideal way to break the ice – all it takes is a little physical mirroring.
The first, and most striking, example of mirroring that goes on between artist and audience begins before the start of the set. We’ve all been in the audience and seen performers clapping towards us as they come onstage. And we’ve applauded right back to the people we’ve paid to see.
Walk onto the stage, approach its edge, extend your energy into the room, and clap towards the onlooking faces.
During the set, and at the end of your songs, applaud the audience and watch them as they return the gesture, creating that unmistakable sound of a gig going great.
If you really want to take your stage performance to the next level, make sure to read this article here:
#2 Get people to take their phones out and shine a light
This is a great technique to use. It’s always been used at huge concerts to create a sea of lights. At small gigs, you might find that people will be willing to do this during a slow well-known song of yours.
It can start as a bit of a laugh with some irony, but people do actually enjoy being part of a crowd of lights, and if they don’t do it too, they’ll be missing out.
Audience engagement activities
#3 Get people to take a short video, then you create a montage after
Not only does this give you content to use on all of your socials, but you’ll be able to ‘give back’ to your audience by featuring their videos online.
Get them to film both portrait and landscape videos and ask them to add it to their story so that you can download it. Doing this, you can also build your social proof online, as you’ll have dozens of people uploading videos of you.
How to captivate an audience when singing
#4 Get people to be silent
This is an interesting one because, in a way, it’s the opposite of getting people to participate. When you think about it though, it’s a good idea because it’s so outlandish. Importantly, it’ll get people to really be focused on your music when you perform.
After the song has finished, they’ll really want to talk and make noise – this is the perfect time to play an upbeat song and get your audience to sing along.
#5 Get people to listen only to the lyrics
This is another great one to try. It’s a win-win situation for you because it gets people to listen and it’s something that builds that personal connection between you and the audience. In this regard, it benefits both you and your fans.
How do you engage a large audience?
#6 Get people to think of how the song relates to them
Doing this is probably one of the best ways to create superfans in the long run. People engage most with music that relates to their lives. If you directly get them to think about their version of this, they’re not only participating but they’re also building up their relationship with your act.
The song you perform along with getting people to do this can be serious or fun – either is great. See what works best when you perform your original songs.
Things to say to get a crowd excited
Having a great set is probably the most important thing to consider when you’re putting together a set with hope to receive some audience participation.
A classic announcement trick is to mention the title of the next song at the end of an announcement. This builds up audience hype before your song has even started, especially if it’s a well-known song.
Also by doing this, your sound person or backing band knows the cue for when to start. The backing track might start at any moment otherwise, and your speech will be cut off or awkwardly, mixed with the intro of the song.
Leave almost no gap between announcing the song and playing the song. If there is a 10-second pause while you sort stuff out, people will get excited and then it’ll die down and you’ll have to re-hype them up after the song starts.
Once your song starts it’s important to get the performance right. If you need any performance advice, make sure to check out this article:
Things to say on stage between songs
Before we talk about things to say, remember that some of the most important information you communicate on stage is non–verbal. It comes down to your body language, whether you feel comfortable in your own skin.
How you handle mistakes is also important. This shows your personality and creates more of a connection to the audience than the words you speak between songs.
Sometimes it’s nice to talk about things that happened the same day or things that are currently happening (as long as it’s not boring, irrelevant, or cliché).
Talk as you normally speak. Do not use any written language or terms that you would not otherwise say unless you are playing a character or persona on stage.
If you’re performing in front of a foreign audience, it can be nice to say a sentence or two in their language. Crowds will appreciate the effort you’ve made to speak their language.
Top 10 audience participation and crowd interaction songs
#10 Ruby – Kaiser Chiefs
For British audiences, this song simply has to be on this list. The memorable chorus ‘Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby’ followed by the vocal riff sun on ‘ah’ is a great one to get any audience singing.
#9 Piano Man – Billy Joel
A classic song that many people know very well. The feel good lyrics definitely get any audience participating.
#8 I Want it That Way – Backstreet Boys
A late 90s classic – the repeating cycle of ‘Tell me why’ followed by each line of the chorus puts ‘I Want it That Way’ at number 9 on this list.
#7 Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Another classic tune. This simplicity of the chorus gets everyone in the audience singing, no matter where the song’s being performed.
#6 Watch Me (Whip Nae Nae) – Silento
The first song on the list that has a dance to go along with it. Popular with kids and teenagers, ‘Watch Me’ get any audience who knows the song ‘whipping’ and ‘nae nae-ing’ until the song’s end.
#5 Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
Classics keep filling this list! Everyone knows the words to the first line of this one – another song that repeats the chorus multiple times, ‘Sweet Caroline’ deserves our number 6 on this list.
#4 Knights of Cydonia – Muse
A modern rock anthem. The riff that drops after the breakdown is always one of those riffs that people sing to. At any Muse concert, you’ll find the crowd moshing and going crazy at this point in this song.
#3 Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
An anthem that repeats the chorus endlessly at the end of the song – it’s a tune that gets any audience participating by singing along throughout.
#2 Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
Just like ‘Ruby’ by Kaiser Chiefs, this song has you breathing in the biggest lungful of air before the chorus, so that you can’t belt out the words that everyone knows.
#1 We Will Rock You – Queen
Our top pick for this list. A brilliant anthem with the most simple hook ‘We will, we will, rock you!’ It also has the moves that everyone knows to do – either stomp-stomp-clap or clap-clap-hands up. Easily one of the best audience participation songs to date.
Have you ever got an audience to participate in your live show? What has been the best technique for you? We would love to hear your experience in the comments below!